Why Knowing Your Audience is So Important (And Not Knowing It is So Dangerous)

It seems like a no brainer. When you have a product to sell, you should know the audience you’re selling it to. As simple as this concept is, the process of defining and learning about an audience seems to fall through the cracks for some brands. As a content strategist, I can’t stress this point enough. But it’s hard to find real, tangible examples to show the detriment to your brand when you launch a campaign without knowing the audience you are trying to engage.

Enter Free People.

I was perusing Buzzfeed as I sometimes do (hey, no judgement!) and found this gem: This Is What a Real Dancer Looks Like. Looking further I saw that this is an excellent example of why really knowing your audience is so important. Here's the deal...

Free People is a clothing company that sells multiple clothing lines, but recently launched a new campaign to promote their "Movement” line. This line was designed for three very niche audiences: ballerinas, surfers, and women who do yoga. The article, and the Free People campaign for their ballerina line, are the perfect example of why knowing your audience is so important.

Here’s the Free People ad for their clothing line that targets ballerinas:

To the average person, there’s nothing wrong with this ad. To the ballerinas who watched it, everything about this ad was wrong. Why? Because the actress in the ad is not a trained ballerina. You wouldn’t know it, but to anyone who does ballet it’s glaringly obvious. So obvious, that several parodies surfaced in response to it.

Here are two gif’s side by side that show the difference between the Free People dancer (left) and a real ballerina (right).

 Image: YouTube/Free People

Image: YouTube/Free People

 Image: Vimeo/AKP Film & Media

Image: Vimeo/AKP Film & Media

As you can see, there is a huge difference. This ad enraged the very audience they were trying to engage, so much so that hundreds of comments were left under the ad on YouTube. Here are just a few:


Had Free People done their research on this segment of their audience, they would know how important the form, and the pointe shoes are to them. This is a great example of why you can’t just launch a campaign without having your foundational content in place.

What is Foundational Content?

Your foundational content is the content that aligns your organization, audience, and products into one clear brand voice. It is crucial to create this content before you do any marketing or write any copy. Just like you wouldn't build a house without first pouring the foundation, you shouldn't build a brand or content marketing plan without first having these elements in place. Here are the pieces of your foundational content:

Organizational Content

Content written to understand yourself.

Mission Statement: Describes what your business does and acts as the rally cry that makes you want to do what you do every day.

Vision Statement: A description of what the world looks like once your mission is achieved.

Core Values: Define your rules of engagement using 6-10 character traits your organization should abide by.

Personality Traits: What are 4-6 character traits that make your brand distinct?

Audience Content

Content written through research to deeply understand your audience and each segment you may have

Segmentation: Grouping your audience into broad categories.

Demographics: Character traits you can measure (age, income, etc.)

Psychographics: Character traits you can’t measure (lifestyle, beliefs, etc.)

Archetypes: Storytelling patterns that transcend time, geography and culture.

Personas: Descriptions of demographics, psychographics, and archetypes, written in paragraph form.

Ideal Customers: A real-life person who represents your persona.

Product/Service Content

Content written to properly define and describe your products and/or services

Features: Bulleted list of attributes that make your product or service distinct or useful.

Benefits: Why your features matter to your ideal customer.

Value Proposition: One sentence description of why your ideal customer should use your product or service.

Elevator Pitch: Script for starting a conversation about your product or service. Gets to the point quickly.

This is what a good foundation looks like. Free People failed to connect to their audience because they didn’t dig deep enough into that particular segment to learn and understand them. Instead, they treated them like the rest of their audience. This led to not only enraged ballerinas, but also to showing their audience that they didn’t understand them. How can a clothing company make clothing specifically for ballerinas when it’s so clear that they don’t understand them? While this may or may not be true, it’s the message Free People sent to this audience segment - who probably won’t be purchasing their clothing now because of it.